In 2012, Governor Bobby Jindal signed into law Act 2, an innovative effort to improve elementary and secondary education in Louisiana by giving parents more choices in the education of their children. The statewide voucher scholarship program allowed low income families with children assigned to underperforming and failing public schools to apply for state scholarships to attend participating private schools of their parents’ choosing. For many families, this program represented their first opportunity to choose their children’s schools instead of having to accept assignment to the public school nearest their homes.
Quickly after its passage, school boards and teachers’ unions challenged the constitutionality of the law’s financing mechanism in Louisiana state court. The Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm that is the nation’s leading legal advocates for school choice, represented parents and school reform groups in defending this law. After a three day bench trial, on November 30, 2012, Judge Timothy Kelley of the 19th Judicial District found that Act 2 unconstitutionally diverted money away from public schools by funding it through the Minimum Foundation Program, which is a constitutionally created process that is used to fund almost all other educational options, including charter schools and specialty schools, in the state. Despite this roadblock, the Institute for Justice continued its defense of the program on appeal at the Louisiana State Supreme Court, arguing that while the Constitution required a minimum funding program for public schools, the Constitution did not prohibit some of that money from being used for private educational options as long the program’s constitutional requirements were met.
On May 7, 2013, The Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that the voucher program’s financing mechanism violated the Louisiana Constitution. In a 6-1 decision, the Supreme Court largely accepted the school boards’ and unions’ arguments, holding that the Legislature had not followed certain procedural requirements in the Louisiana Constitution and that the program could not be funded through the state’s Minimum Foundation Program. Though a disappointing outcome, the decision addresses only the means by which the state funds the program. The case did not address the underlying constitutionality of school choice, meaning that the state is free to fund the program using a line-item appropriation as is done in other states. The state did exactly that later that summer, allowing the participants in the program to remain in the schools of their choice. The Louisiana Supreme Court’s decision means, however, that each year students and parents will need to battle the forces of the educational status quo for funding for the program.
Louisiana School Choice
July 9, 2012
19th Judicial District Court for the Parish of East Baton Roug
Arif Panju Managing Attorney of the Institute for Justice Texas Office
After reviewing each state’s constitutional provisions for passages most relevant to school choice legislation, as well as any case law or legal opinions involving those provisions, IJ found that in nearly every state in the union, a well-designed school choice program is viable.
The Past and Future of Choice-Based Aid in Louisiana
On February 29, 2008, Gov. Bobby Jindal presented the Louisiana Legislature with a proposed budget allocating $10 million for a school choice initiative that would enable parents in New Orleans to send their children to the school of their choice, including private schools, with state-funded scholarships. According to Gov. Jindal, “We want to make sure…